No deal on contract extensions

The road to a possible extension of the current collective agreements for teachers/occasional teachers and support staff employed by school boards, which had been proposed by the provincial government in September, came to an abrupt dead-end on November 24. Discussions were halted when it became clear that the government was unwilling to honour its commitment that the school boards’ associations would not be allowed to play a significant role in the discussions.

The prospect of a contract extension was floated by government representatives when they met twice with OSSTF/FEESO in September to begin discussions of a possible remedy for the successful Charter challenge to Bill 115, which had been launched by OSSTF/FEESO and a number of other unions.

The Provincial Executive made it clear to the government representatives that any consideration of a proposal to extend the collective agreements would require approval and input from OSSTF/FEESO local leaders. Accordingly, a special meeting of local OSSTF/FEESO Presidents, Provincial Councilors and Chief Negotiators, as well as the Provincial Collective Bargaining Committee, was held in Toronto on September 29. At the Provincial Council meeting the following day, motions were passed setting out a clear process for the negotiation of a possible contract extension and Bill 115 remedy, as well as a ratification process. A brief was approved at a subsequent meeting of Presidents and Chief Negotiators on October 13, and discussions commenced with government representatives on October 19.

OSSTF/FEESO had sought and received assurances from the government that the school boards’ associations would not have substantive input into these talks, but as discussions unfolded over a total of six dates during the following weeks, it became apparent that the school boards were playing an increasingly central role. And ultimately—though not surprisingly, given our experience in the last round of central table negotiations—it was the intransigence of the school boards’ associations that precipitated the termination of discussions.

Rather than embrace a collaborative approach to problem-solving, the boards refused to consider a mutual-consent process for mid-term amendments to collective agreements. And given the offer of funding for hundreds of additional support staff to assist and support the province’s most vulnerable students, the boards refused to guarantee that the funding would be used to provide that additional staff.

With the government’s failure to limit the role of the school boards in these discussions, and the determination of the boards’ representatives to undermine progress by clinging to needlessly antagonistic positions, it was not possible to come to an agreement.

OSSTF/FEESO is now preparing to commence local and central bargaining next year under the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, and to pursue a ruling for the Bill 115 Charter challenge remedy through the courts.

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